Does a fast food nation like ours get the fast food church it deserves? Does it get a church with a simple doctrine, a church with a uniformed experience and theology, a church filled with cheap, bargain basement deal kinda grace that makes us spiritually unhealthy, lethargic and obese? Or are we striving for something more as a church, more than what our fast food nation expects from it's fast food chains? Speaking of fast food has anyone noticed all the new fish items being peddled at all the major fast food chains? MacDonald's and their "fish bites", Wendy's and their Alaskan Pollack sandwich, or Arby's and their fresh caught Atlantic Cod sandwich, filleted on spot when it's most fresh...or at least mostly fresh. ;) Why all the fish, why now? February is usually a very tough time economically for retailers and resturants. There are no major holidays and normally most of the country is locked up in the freeze of winter...so there's not much "going out" either....so why not try something different? Also it's Lent and some of you are old enough and can remember when your Catholic friends gave up all kinds of goodies for Lent especially red meat. The alternative for red meat on Fridays was fish. So essentially all these fast food chains are trying to capitalize on all those good and observant Catholics who still only eat fish on Fridays during Lent.
Us Protestants, well our Lenten experience is a little different. The observation of Lent and all it's givings ups and fasting is relatively new to us Methodist at least. It wasn't observed until the early 80's in most UM congregations and there are still some, especially in the south, who do not observe Lent. So you have excuse us when we forget to eat our giant jelly doughnuts the Tuesday before and when we forget to eat only fish on Fridays and when we slip a pancake or piece of pie into our diets here an there...on a day other than Sunday (the Lenten fast is broken on Sundays, thats why there are 46 days in our 40 day fast) during Lent. The problem with Lent for us protestants and really for a lot of catholics is that fasting doesn't have the meaning it use to. Giving up food doesn't make us sacrificial people when most of us are 22lbs or more over weight, it makes us people who are making a choice to live longer by not eating so much or so poorly. So does this mean that we shouldn't observe Lent or that we shouldn't fast during Lent? By no means is that what I am saying, that is between you and God what your Lenten discipline is, if you even observe one. What I am saying is that perhaps we should make Lent more about what we can pick up, instead of what we can give up.
In our passage this week Paul's writes to the Philippians in regards to his pursuit of perfection. He encourages the Philippians to join him and do the same, pursue perfection, the prize, the goal the end result of our struggle. Crazy enough to Paul the prize is the cross. We are in a sense on a figurative journey to the Cross during Lent which really ends at an empty tomb (but hush, we aren't suppose to know this...or at least we need to pretend to not know it...it will ruin the Lenten ambiance). In life we really are on a journey to the cross, every day we journey their as individuals, as a church, pursuing the cross of Christ. A recent study showed that people are happiest when they are in the pursuit of a goal versus when they actually obtain the goal. We are most satisfied when we have something that we are working towards, a goal, a reason for getting up in the morning and working through the day. It seems that when we actually get there, theres a bit of a let down, but we are gun ho when it comes to the process of the journey. This is the reason why Paul admits, "I'm not there...but I'm on my way and I want you to journey there with me." He strongly admonishes the Philippians to come with him to the cross.
The cross is often seen like Lent to us. A place of sacrifice, hardship, and suffering, yet Paul says we ought to celebrate the cross. How can we celebrate a thing like the cross? How can we celebrate a time like Lent...no pancakes, pies, steaks or ice cream? Paul considers the cross or the life of the cross a blessing. He says that the cross is what makes us friends of God, those who live according to the way of the cross are God's friends, while those who don't he calls enemies of God. Their destination, there journey ends with destruction, while those who journey towards the cross, they, we are citizens of Heaven. Our destination is eternal life. This is all very remarkable, given the natural aversion people of that day would have had towards the cross. The cross was an instrument of torture, humiliation and death. It was reserved for those who were enemies of the state, enemies of the established rule of things, yet Paul's says the cross is reserved for the friends of God and that established rule is reserved for God's enemies.
The cross is something for us to pursue. It's a way of life that is devoted to God and others. It's not a simple life, it's not an easy life, just like Lent is not an easy time for us. It's never easy to give up stuff, especially when you live in a self-indulgent world like ours. Look, Jesus bore the cross for you, so that you could bear it with him and have everlasting life. All he asks you to give up is way of life that leads to destruction. This Lent instead of looking for things to give up and then struggling with it when you mess up and eat hamburger or drink a Coke, try picking something up. Something that will enhance your life journey to the cross. And if you have never made Jesus your Lord and savior and if you are living as an enemy of God, this Lent...today even, pick up the cross and follow him.